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Origins: The Boston Home for Incurables

The Boston Home History
Origins: “The Boston Home for Incurables”

Founder, Cordelia Harmon
Cordelia Harmon was born the fourth of five daughters of John Harmon and Mary Melan, a family of sea captains in Topsham, Maine. A Boston nurse in the late 1800's, Cordelia Harmon saw many patients with chronic illnesses discharged from hospitals that had no place to go.  Unable to be cared for at home and turned away from hospitals, they often ended up in area institutions for the indigent and criminally insane. Cordelia knew that although suffering from diseases and conditions without a cure, these individuals were not beyond hope and more importantly were not beyond help. She was determined to get them that help. They needed a place to live where they would receive the care they required.

The Boston Home For Incurables and the death of Cordelia Harmon
On December 4, 1882 with help from her friend Reverend Phillips Brooks, the Rector of Trinity Church and the parishioners, Cordelia opened The Boston Home for Incurables in Brighton, Massachusetts.  Cordelia raised the money, furnished the house and hired the staff. The home opened with eight residents and had a waiting list of more than one-hundred.

Sadly, on May 25, 1883, less than six months after the opening of the Home for Incurables, sixty-two year old Cordelia Harmon died suddenly after a three-day illness. Cordelia was eulogized at Trinity Church. "Trinity Church has lost a most valued and faithful member, a helper whom I warmly appreciated and fully trusted, and the poor lost a constant and sympathizing friend.  She died at her post," wrote Reverend Phillips Brooks.

Move to Dorchester
In 1883 a group at Trinity Church formed "The Committee for the Establishment of The Boston Home for Incurables." By September 1884, a little more than a year after Cordelia Harmon’s death, the committee raised the funds needed to purchase the Codman Farm in Dorchester, Massachusetts and renovated the farmhouse to accommodate disabled residents.  The Dorchester facility opened in February 1885 with twenty-six residents. By 1888, the number of residents had doubled, and one-third of them were children. Despite filling twice the original number of beds, demand still outpaced the home's capacity and there were two hundred on the waiting list. That same year, the Home received a $3,000 donation as the nucleus of a proposed $100,000 endowment.  A contributor of note was John Quincy Adams.

In its early years, the Home provided care for people with disabilities and chronic conditions. The Boston Home nearly supported itself by maintaining a large vegetable garden and by raising chickens, pigs and a herd of cows. Many board members and neighbors donated bushels of apples, as well as cattle and land. 

The 1920's - World War II
After a year of construction, a new fireproof brick building – the same one that today serves as the Home’s main entrance – was completed in July of 1927.  The new fifty-six bed facility focused on the care of women and young girls.

The Boston Home  - 1960-1990
Dropping the word ‘Incurables” from its name, the facility officially became The Boston Home, Inc. in 1961. The Boston Home embraced the philosophy that choice, self-determination, and independence were essential to supporting the best quality of life for residents. Many residents chose to work, making full use of their skills and abilities in various endeavors, including selling crafts, sewing, typing, tutoring, and writing. All of their activities defied popular perceptions and stereotypes of what women with disabilities could do.

1990's – Today
The Boston Home has become the standard in specialized residential care for adults with advanced MS and was designated as a Center for the Promotion of Excellence in Long-term Care by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The Boston Home remains the only facility of its kind in New England and one of only a handful in the nation.

The Boston Home extended its mission beyond its residents to those living in the community with similar conditions. Today these services include B.Fit!, a day wellness and socialization program; The Wheelchair Enhancement Center; and Outpatient Seating and Rehabilitation Services. The Boston Home Institute advances standards of care through educational conferences for healthcare professionals at the local and national level and advocates for informed public policy. The Boston Home also offers a test bed for assistive- technology development in collaboration with faculty, research scientists, and students from area universities.

Guided through 135 years of societal changes and financial challenges by successive Boards of Trustees, The Boston Home has remained true to Cordelia Harmon’s vision.